Before I had my own kids, I never paid extra attention to the families I’d pass by on the trail. If I happened to run into a couple with a baby, say, 3 miles into the wilderness, I’d think, “Hmm, that’s nice. Cute baby,” and then keep walking.

Now, as a mother to a nearly 4-month-old and stepmother to four- and five-year-olds, I have a genuine appreciation for the extra time and energy it takes getting your kids into the outdoors. I don’t mean to make it sound like some insurmountable obstacle… but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t take more effort and coordination.

Before the baby arrived, my partner and I used every weekend as an opportunity to get my two step-kiddos into nature. The boys didn’t have great endurance back then, but they absolutely LOVED hitting the dirt… even if only for one or two miles. For me and my partner, it was a chance to connect with family and to teach our children new things: Leave No Trace ethics, how to push through challenges, and how to appreciate the beauty around you.

When we found out we were expecting, it became that much more important to us that we get the kiddos outside. Sawyer was born in October… which, in Tucson, means it’s still pretty warm. Before he turned one month old, we were taking him out on the trails — first in his baby carrier, and then in his baby backpack (more on these below). On weekends, his brothers continued to join us on these desert excursions.

Over the past several years (and especially over the last few months), I’ve developed a short list of must-have items a mother needs to go out hiking with her kids. Here are some of the essentials.

For Infants

Front-Facing Carrier

For the first three months, my partner and I hiked with our newborn using a front-facing baby carrier. Having an appropriately sized carrier (vs. simply carrying your baby) frees up your hands to do other things — move that branch out of the way, grab a bottle, take a selfie. And, although you should only be hiking to your physical ability, in the event that you should trip or stumble, it’s always best that your hands are available to try and break your fall so your baby is left unharmed.

The baby carrier you use is totally a matter of personal preference. In fact, my partner and I each had different ones we gravitated toward. He preferred his Mission Critical Baby Carrier (in Coyote), while I felt more comfortable using the Ergobaby 360 (in Dewy Gray).

Backpack Carrier

Have I mentioned our baby has been consistently measuring in the 90th percentile for height? Recently, his long legs have been hitting our knees on those uphill hikes… making some of those more grueling climbs a little aggravating with the front-facing carrier.

To REI we went! After trying on a few packs, my partner opted for the Deuter Kid Comfort Air Child Carrier. Our son can hold his head up on his own, so lately we’ve begun transitioning him to this backpack carrier instead.

The only caveat: still lacking some core strength, our 4-month-old hasn’t quite mastered how to stay fully upright. For the time being, we’ve cushioned either side of the backpack with rolled blankets to help him sit up so he can see the world!

Diaper Backpack (vs. Diaper Bag)

One of the very first baby purchases we made was our “diaper bag”… but my partner and I were hellbent on not going the traditional route. Instead of opting for a stylish, fashionable diaper bag at Buy Buy Baby, we shopped with our REI dividend in mind and bought Patagonia Black Hole 25L Daypacks (in Black and in White).

If you’re still using a front-facing baby carrier, these packs are perfect! They hold everything you need for a day trip, and they’re super lightweight. Plus, the ease of being able to sling everything on your back (vs. carrying on your shoulder) makes the whole hiking experience so much more comfortable and enjoyable.

Infant Sun Hat

Here in Arizona, we care a lot about sun protection. Before taking Sawyer on his first hike, I put a beanie on his head thinking, “This will do just the trick! It will prevent his sensitive baby scalp from getting sunburnt!” I’ve lived in Arizona for over 7 years, so I should have known better. When we returned home, he had the rosiest cheeks and had clearly gotten too much sun!

Since baby boy is still under 6 months old and we are being extra vigilant researching baby sunscreen (especially because what goes on his face will likely end up on his hands and in his mouth!), we decided to first try a sun hat. We love this Baby Sun Hat by Twinklebelle Design! There is an adjustable chin strap (that he doesn’t mind, at all!) and plenty of coverage to keep his face out of the sun. It’s also incredibly breathable and fast-drying, which is a major relief for this mama.

Diaper Changing Pad

We’ve had more than our fair share of diaper explosions out in the wild… and if your little one is anything like ours, then you’ll know that the diaper change can’t wait until you’re back at the car! In lieu of setting your little one down in the dirt, grass, or on a rock, opt for a slim and lightweight diaper changing pad.

We were gifted a Skip Hop Baby Pronto Signature Portable Changing Mat Station (in Heather Gray) for our baby shower… and we liked it so much, we bought an extra one. This is super convenient not only for on the trails, but also for public places that may not have a convenient diaper changing table.

Nursing Cover

If you’re hiking out in the wilderness, there’s less of a chance that you’ll actually run into anyone else on the trail. But if you’re walking along a highly trafficked path, you may encounter others. If you’re like me, you might be a bit too modest to sit on your nearest boulder and just whip out your “baby pillows”. I always carry a nursing cover with me — just in case — and love multifunctional ones just like this. Nursing cover + scarf + carseat cover… all in one!

Formula Dispenser

If your little one is formula fed (ours is actually a mixture of both!), then a formula dispenser is a must. Having to mess with powder formula in the wild can be a nuisance. We carry bottles already filled with water, and our Philips AVENT Formula Dispenser + Snack Cup (available in Pink or Gray).

What’s great about this dispenser is that the rotating cap prevents powder from spilling into the other compartments. When you’re ready to feed your baby, simply dump your pre-measured powder directly into your bottle of water, mix, and serve!

For Toddlers & Older

Hydration Backpacks

Getting hydration backpacks for our four- and five-year-olds was a game changer. We were beginning to get mildly annoyed with being asked for a sip of water every 100 yards, or a snack from the backpack, or to constantly carry their belongings for them. Enter, hydration backpack.

We initially ordered two off-brand packs on Amazon. While the packs themselves were fine, both reservoirs leaked during first use. Luckily, we had some extra Camelbak bladders lying around and were able to switch ‘em out. You get what you pay for!

To save you the hassle, I recommend this Camelbak Kids Hydration Pack. The zippered pouch is also perfect for snacks, sunglasses, or any other small items your kiddo needs along the way.

Hats / Caps

Sun protection… again. See? I told you we take it seriously.

Luckily, with our two oldest, there’s zero arm-pulling to make this happen. They both get super excited when there’s an opportunity to get a new hat! The last time our local REI store held a garage sale, we picked up these matching Co-op hats for them (now discontinued)… but really, any hat with a brim will do.

First Aid Kit

This one’s going into your backpack, mama! With older kids hiking ahead of you on the trail, you’re bound to run into scraped knees, bee stings, and tears. You’re gonna wish you had a first aid kit.

You don’t need to go all-out and get the biggest kit you can find. Something lightweight with the basics (like bandaids, wipes, gauze, tape, and antibiotic ointment) will work just fine.